Five-year-old Rebecca Brown has lived a comfortable life, partly because parents Barry and Becky Brown have achieved a measure of success with their White Rock-area restaurant, Barbec’s.

But her parents also wanted Rebecca to see how less fortunate people lived and to spend some time making their lives a little bit better. So Rebecca served meals and handed out bags of food last year when Barbec’s served free Thanksgiving dinners at its restaurant in Pleasant Grove.

The event attracted 250 people and the support of the southeast Dallas community, Brown says. He expects 400 people to eat free turkey dinners at the second annual dinner this Thanksgiving.

Rebecca is learning that the holidays are not just a time for children to receive gifts.

“All my daughter knows is she walks in Christmas morning, and she has a mountain of presents to open. She has no idea she’s as lucky as they come,” Brown says.

“We wanted her to learn to help people at an early age.”

Last month, Brown sent out letters and packets of 50 tickets each to 60 area churches and relief agencies in East and southeast Dallas. The Browns work on the project with the Interfaith Church of Christ, the Southeast Dallas Emergency Food Bank, and the Southeast Business Association. Restaurant suppliers such as the Julius Schepps Co., Sysco Food Systems and White Swan donate the food.

Volunteers serve the meals – three City Council members were among the waiters last Thanksgiving – and Brown will send one or two employees to keep the kitchen running smoothly.

“It’s really turned into a community thing. It’s not just Barbec’s,” Brown says.

Last year’s event produced a $1,300 surplus, which Brown donated to the Interfaith Church’s Thursday night feeding program that serves homeless living under an overpass in Downtown Dallas. Any extra food goes there, too.

Anyone who wants a Thanksgiving turkey dinner is welcome at the Pleasant Grove restaurant, Brown says.

“You’re going to have some people who may not be what we consider our target audience. It’s Thanksgiving, so if they want a meal, fine. We had people last year who didn’t realize we were closed. We fed them, and they said: ‘Let us donate something.’”

The Browns opened their first Barbec’s in 1978 in a former Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Garland Road. With partner Jeff Seley, they opened the Pleasant Grove store in 1989.

“My wife and I both worked in restaurants all the way through high school and college. We decided we weren’t going to set foot in another restaurant unless we owned it,” Brown says.

And now he’s thankful for his good fortune.

“Being in business here the past 15 years provides a graphic picture that not everybody is that lucky. I think my daughter needs to be conscious of that,” Brown says.

“She knows that all those toys are great, and all her relatives love her. But she also needs to know what it is to help other people.”

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